Monday, July 22, 2013

A Native American Defends The Racist Redskins Logo

You'd think, for obvious reasons, that all Native Americans would scorn the Washington Redskins. But, surprisingly, some are dedicated fans. .

A member of this unlikely minority is Jonathan Harris, whose mother has deep Cherokee roots. Don't dismiss him as some self-loathing kook or dimwitted right-winger or misguided loser. Actually he's a young (23 years old), smart, ultra-liberal leftist who went to Penn State. Harris, who grew up in the Washington area, is essentially saying that being a Skins fan is more important to him than the fact that their logo offends most Native Americans--his people. His mother, he says, hates the team. But his late father, a Boston native of German-Irish descent, was a life-long Skins fan. Harris sided with his father.

"I've lived through this controversy at home all my life," Harris recalls. "My father turned me into a Skins fan, in spite of my mother. She says supporting the team is dishonoring Native Americans and catering to racists. But my dad always said that being a Skins fan was in my blood, because it was in his blood, and told me not to fight it..We even went to a lot of games--and getting those tickets has never been easy."

Harris explains why his dedication to the Redskins is dominant, why any problems with the logo are secondary: "When you're a true fan, you really love your team. They're under your skin, in your head, in your heart. You don't think about logos and what they mean. I don't think of Redskins as having anything to do with a racial slur against Native Americans. It's just a word, a name, like Hawks or Cougars or Panthers or whatever. I realize that to most Native Americans, the name Redskins has all sorts of ugly stuff attached to it. It's a nasty, horrible word to them. But when I think of Redskins I think of football. I don't think of political correctness."

Apparently he's not the only Native American who's a rabid Skins supporter."There are hundreds of us out there. I've met quite a few. We're like a secret society. We can't be vocal. We keep quiet about it. I don't even feel comfortable talking to you about it. My stance on this issue hurts my mother and I hate hurting her. Our parents and relatives can't deal with us supporting the Skins. We all got sucked in somehow. My father got me into loving the team but with those guys,  I can guess what happened.You see the team on TV all the time and hear them on the radio and all your buddies love them and slowly you get hooked. The team's name may be offensive but to a fan, that's not that important."

Native Americans' distaste for the word redskin, Harris speculates, is partly generational:
"Older Native Americans feel more strongly about it. They experienced racism much more than the younger generation. They grew up on the outside looking in. That wasn't my experience or the experience of a lot of Native Americans in my generation.We don't feel that strongly about the word redskin. People say it's as bad as the n-word but it's not.When it comes to racial slurs, the n-word is the worst. The r-word, by comparison, really is mild. It doesn't even bother me that much."

Incidentally, Harris knows all about the racist history of the Washington Redskins, recounting it in detail. The word redskin, he explains, stands for the scalps of Native Americans. Bounty hunters used to murder them and bring their scalps--redskins--to government offices for money. The team's founder, George Preston Marshall, a hard-core racist, purchased the team in 1932, when it was the Boston Braves. He changed the name to Redskins, supposedly to honor the first coach, who was reportedly part Souix. But actually he changed the name so the football team wouldn't be confused with the Boston Braves baseball team. Marshall, who moved the team to Washington in 1937, always vigorously championed racism in the league, boosting the policy that banned blacks, which finally ended in 1946. Not surprisingly, Washington was the last NFL team to sign a black player, clinging to that racist ban until the government forced integration in 1962. Marshall, who died in 1969, hated nonwhites so much that, in his will, he specified that no money from his foundation could be used to promote racial integration.

Isn't this racist history enough to keep a Native American from supporting the team? And what about current owner Dan Snyder (who's Jewish, by the way), who refuses to change the logo?. "Marshall was racist scum and Snyder is an idiot," Harris replies. "But I put all that in the corner. It's a black mark. I don't like the logo. It's another black mark. The football team and how they play and wins and losses and how RGIII (quarterback Robert Griffin) plays and if he's healthy, and getting to the Super Bowl, that's what important. The rest? I put it out of my mind. I'm a fan first."